Gimme That Star Trek Ep.19: The Borg

Resistance is futile! You will be assimilated! Siskoid and Kraptonite’s Ryan Blake go deep into one of Trek’s most enduring antagonist race – the Borg! Where they came from, what they mean, how did they evolve, what impact did they have on the Trek universe, and what are their greatest moments and stories. It’s all here in Gimme’s first villain profile!

Listen to Episode 19 below!

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“Star Trek Theme” by Alexander Courage, with the Irredeemable Shagg on vocals. End theme: “Deep Space Nine Theme” by Dennis McCarthy.

Bonus clips from: Star Trek The Next Generation’s “Q Who?”, featuring Rob Bowman, Maurice Hurley, an Tim Trella;  “Star Trek: First Contact”, starring Alice Krige and Brent Spiner; and Star Trek Voyager’s “Revulsion”, starring Jeri Ryan.

And thanks for leaving a comment!

23 responses to “Gimme That Star Trek Ep.19: The Borg

  1. Siskoid’s observation of the Borg’s evolution blew my mind. I had always thought of them as static antagonists, but the organic (no pun intended) path that the writers subtly weaved in is now apparent.

    Great episode, as usual.

  2. As a more low key Trek fan (certainly compared to you and your guests,) my interest in the Borg doesn’t really extend beyond TNG. Even First Contact has lost a little shine over time because, as you noted, the Queen behaves more like a generic villainess rather than something actually born of the collective. Plus, the fact that it slips into generic seductress tropes really annoys me at this point. Ultimately I feel that First Contact should have been the last canon Borg story.

    I know you made the (very valid) comparison to the Cybermen, but at this point I feel like I have to compare them to something like the Weeping Angels. The core concept is so simple and effective that each time you bring them back your only options are to either rehash what was done or start messing with what was established (new wrinkles, new abilities, new information) and that almost always ends up diluting the power of that original simple concept. The Borg were strung along for far too many stories.

    I never really got into Voyager, but I did watch JUST the Borg episodes when I was on a bit of a Trek kick a few years back. And the Voyager ones were the stories I remember the least about. The only reason I remember the Enterprise episode more is because I was so monstrously bored that it stuck in my head for that reason. That is a shame what you laid out about Janeway though. Honestly, it sounds like she fell into what I tend to think of as the Cable trope. When Cable was introduced into X-Men canon in and started leading his own team in the 90s, his method of leadership was “My way or the highway, all suggestions are ignored and I don’t have to explain myself to you.” Which kept creating a fundamental schism in my brain where I always wonder “wait… why do people follow this guy, again?” If you’re going to have a leader of that type there HAS to be a credible bond between them and those they command, because otherwise everybody would resign as soon as they got out of whatever was going on. I mean, granted in Voyager there was nowhere for them to go, but it becomes infuriating to watch. The captain doesn’t have to be perfect, but if their leadership is going to be that flawed you need SOMETHING to give credibility to the fact that there hasn’t been a mutiny. And having that something just be “well, they turned out to be right” is narrative cheating. Especially if you do it repeatedly.

    And finally, for a random bit of fun, here’s a link to a nerdlesque number from a friend of mine, Alexa Luthor, performing as Seven of Nine (NSFW!) –

    1. Very good comparison with the Angels! They too were a powerful pure concept that had to be tweaked to fit further stories because every encounter would basically be the same!

  3. Wonderful episode, and Ryan was a fine guest (can’t wait to steal him for one of my shows).

    I wonder if the new Trek films would ever use the Borg as bad guys, or are they still considered TNG-only? Now that we’re all in a different timeline, I would argue all Trek is open to Kirk, Spock, etc. Or would Trek fans rebel?

  4. I’ve long known of the Borg as the big Boogie Man of Next Generation and beyond Trek. My only exposure to them, though, was in FIRST CONTACT (the only TNG movie I’ve seen) and random episodes of Enterprise that I half-watched for Jeri Ryan.

    As you described the Borg’s pathology and history in the various series, though, a strange off-topic thought occurred to me. Get ready for tangential rant here (and don’t feel obligated to read this in the next Subspace Transmissions)…

    When Lucasfilm started publishing new Star Wars books and comics in the ’90s, one of the first novels they released was called THE TRUCE AT BAKURA by Kathy Tyers. I read this book and mostly enjoyed it, but as I grew older and started talking to more Star Wars fans online, I discovered the book was largely ignored or hated by a lot of SW fans. Mostly, it seems, because of the villains. Luke Skywalker and the heroes of the Rebellion aren’t pitted against the Empire in this book, or the Sith, or scummy bounty hunters.

    Instead, the main threat of the novel is a race of conquering aliens called the Ssi-Ruuk. They’re bipedal sauropods, like velociraptors, who use guns that look like ping-pong paddles. When the Ssi-Ruuk conquer a planet, they take slaves and submit them to a process called “entechment” wherein the slave’s life energy is completely drained and converted into fuel for the Ssi-ruuvi warships and star fighters. That’s right. These dinosaurs suck the life essence of people and use the energy to power their robot ships. Sounds pretty whacky, right? And it doesn’t sound very Star Wars-y, which I think is why so many Star Wars fans rejected the story.

    But as I listened to you talk about the Borg, it suddenly dawned on me, that the Ssi-Ruuk and their bizarre entechment process may have been ill-suited for the galaxy far, far away, but (to my limited knowledge) it sounds plausible for Star Trek.

    And that got me thinking that the entire plot of THE TRUCE AT BAKURA may have been better suited for a Star Trek adventure than Star Wars. The events take place immediately after the Battle of Endor as depicted in RETURN OF THE JEDI, but the fallout of that film is only background to the book. The Rebel Alliance is alerted to a crisis on the edge of the galaxy–the planet Bakura is under attack by ships from the Ssi-Ruuvi Imperium. The Rebels go to Bakura to help, and to convince the planet to defect from the wounded Empire and join the New Republic. There’s a lot of diplomacy and political talk, and a romance between Luke and a local woman that never really develops into anything. And there’s a plot line involving a Force-sensitive human boy named Dev, forced to work for the Ssi-Ruuk until Luke Skywalker inspires him to resist.

    I mean, am I crazy or does that not sound like Kathy Tyers really wanted to right a Star Trek novel and just made a couple changes?

    It may seem ironic or hypocritical given my feelings about THE LAST JEDI, but I always went against the grain and liked THE TRUCE AT BAKURA, specifically because the threat of the Ssi-Ruuk felt so different than the normal Empire/Sith plot. I never realized until now, though, that it should have been Captains Kirk or Picard fighting the Ssi-Ruuvi warships, not Luke and Han.

    Okay, sorry for the weird rant.

    1. No, there might be something to that, Ryan. Just as magic space robed dudes would like out of place in the Alpha Quadrant, perhaps too “sci-fi” a villain isn’t meant for the more fantastic realm of your Star Wars.

      Every story world has its rules that become more obvious when they’re bent to breakage.

      Also, TLJ rocked the house!

  5. While it is true that the Borg, as they finally made it to screen, looked like a rip-off of the Cybermen from Doctor Who, even the original insectoid concept would have ended up resembling the Wirrn (“The Ark in Space”). One way or another, the Borg were pretty much doomed to be Doctor Who alien rip-offs.

  6. Great episode Siskoid and Ryan! Some fascinating ruminations on the Borg, and I like Siskoid’s “No Prizes” to explain away the inconsistencies. I kind of always assumed Locutus was indeed a “when in Rome” approach to taking on Starfleet.

    And yes, those Shatner novels are a bit ridiculous, but history (and multiple episodes) prove Kirk probably would have talked the Borg into destroying themselves in less than 60 minutes (minus commercials).

    Good observation about Janeway as well. I hate to say this, but I sometimes think the desire to portray the first lead female captain as a competent hero got the writers in a lot of trouble, making her an unlikable super-woman who had to always be right. To create conflict, they had her crew disagree with her. Hence the unlikeable part.

    Oh, and I have never heard the term “nerf” used in such a way, and you guys said it REPEATEDLY. Perhaps you’ve been assimilated by Hasbro?


  7. It’s not important regarding the Borg storyline but Bajor does not join the Federation at the end of DS9. The season 4 Klingon arc forced by the studio slowed things down, they finally join in the post DS9 books in Unity.

  8. Thank you for another thought provoking episode.

    I particularly liked Ryan’s philosophical argument that the Borg are not necessarily evil villains. Upon further reflection, I agree with him, but, as a biologist, would put forward a biological argument. If the Borg are truly a collective, then one can think of the Borg as single living organism. This organism would need to eat (i.e., assimilate other species) to grow (i.e., to add biomass through the addition of new drones) and to survive (i.e., evolutionary adaptation through the assimilation of new technology, rather than through mutation). If a lion kills and eats me, he snuffs out my individuality and assimilates my matter into his body, but I wouldn’t call the lion evil. I think the same could be argued for the Borg, as there does not appear to be any malevolent or hurtful intent behind their actions.

    I think this argument holds true for the Borg as they first appeared in TNG. Once you introduce the Borg Queen as the guiding mind of the collective in First Contact, all this goes out the window. She appears to be self-aware, possessing free will and agency, which means she theoretically could choose a different way for the Borg to exist. In my mind, it’s at this point that the Borg cease to be a giant organism feeding to survive, and become evil villains.

  9. Not much of a Star Trek fan, but remember the TNG Borg eps as being very cool. It does seem as with Dr Who that 2 appearances of a foe is the magic number before they become diminished as a concept and threat.

    Great analysis. You 2 b smarter than I.

  10. I truly appreciate your ability to explain (or attempt to explain) the myriad inconsistencies in Star Trek instead of crossing your arms and shouting, “Not canon!”

    This was an excellent episode and Gimme That Star Trek is easily the best Trek podcast in my feed.

  11. I found this a very interesting discussion, you two summarized the history of the Borg collective very well and I enjoyed your own insights and thoughts and comparisons to philosophy.

    But when it comes to recommending what non television “expanded universe” Star Trek media in which the Borg make an appearance I personally have to strongly disagree about the Destiny books and how the Borg were treated in it.

    It is indeed an exciting premise of the Borg coming in full force to the Alpha Quadrant but I do not agree with the writer’s idea that the Borg decided that the Federation were a threat (they weren’t) that needed to be destroyed or the whole Borg origin story with the Caeliar which feels to much “small universe/everything needs to be connected” to me.
    I really wish Pocket Books had left the Borg alone if they are not capable of writing stories with them. To me most of Pocket Book writers never really got the Borg and just want to tell the standard stories they do most of the time.

    I once liked the TNG Vendetta novel but it has not aged that well for me. There is also not much other Borg stories I can recommend as books or in comics (I found TNG Hive very poor because it was a rehash of First Contact and Scorpion that glorified Seven to much).
    The only “comic” I can recommend that features the Borg is Star Trek New Visions “Resistance”, but the Borg in this do not really act in character, being damaged and insane.

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